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9 Tips for Talking to Kids about Tragedies

Last night Anson (6) was quietly sitting at the table coloring. The TV was on and the adults were standing around talking about a deadly Oklahoma tornado and the 24 third grade children who were trapped in the rubble. Our conversations about this tragic event continued. We argued about the government, FEMA, super storms, the environment, greenhouse emissions, droughts, earthquakes, politics. Anson just kept coloring. At bedtime, she asked if she could sleep with her sisters because she didn’t want to be alone.


As adults, it’s normal to want to talk through our grief and anxieties. It’s how we cope. But for a child whose feelings of security within her world are based on her environment (home, school, city), news and images of a tragedy can shake her at the core. In my own fear and sadness for the events surrounding Oklahoma, I forgot to protect the most important person in the room–my own child.

As I prepared to write this article, I contacted my daughter’s school counselor for insight into how best to handle talking to kids about tragedy. She was incredibly insightful, as usual. Here are some helpful tips that I gathered from our conversation, as well as tips from various resources around the web. Also, Dr. Dahlia Topolosky offers more great insight in her post How my children found out about the boston marathon bombings.

9 Tips for Talking to Kids about Tragedies

  1. Turn off the media. Watching and hearing about tragedy all day and all night can be overwhelming, even for adults.
  2. If your child is old enough to watch the news, watch with him: this is the easiest way to monitor what your child is exposed to and a great way to gauge if your child is overwhelmed or wants to learn more. Talk about what you see, let your child comment on the images and stories as they appear.
  3. Don’t tell too much if they’re not asking. Find out what they know before you go into too much detail. A child’s perception of a traumatic situation may be different from an adult’s perception.
  4. Ask open-ended questions: “I noticed you squeezed my hand a little tighter when Daddy was talking about the tornado. What do you think about that?”
  5. Look for changes in behavior like worrying about what time you’re going to pick them up from school, fear of sleeping alone, a huge emotional reaction to something small.
  6. Bath time, nighttime, or bed time are great times to find out if a child has concerns or fears because she is more relaxed, open and vulnerable.
  7. Children are naturally narcissistic (the world is all about them… the good, the bad, the ugly); make sure they don’t think they did anything to cause it.
  8. Assure them they are safe, that the adults are doing what they are supposed to be doing to make sure everyone is ok.
  9. It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers: “I can tell you’re really thinking about this. I don’t know why it happened but you are safe.”


How to Help Victims of the Oklahoma Tornados

Tips for Helping Families and Children Cope with Disaster and Stress

Advice On How Kids, Adults Can Cope With Tragedy

Talking to Your Kids About Natural Disasters, War, and Violence

3 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Scary News

When Terrible Things Happen

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new orleans parent’s club.

Parenting. It’s hard. It’s complicated. It’s full of the highest highs and lowest lows. Right when you think you’ve mastered something, something new comes up and you’re cut off at the knees. It’s exhausting.

But we do it anyway. And no matter how hard it is or how much we doubt ourselves, our abilities, our decisions or the outcomes, we just put one foot in front of the other and move forward… with our hearts on our sleeves.

And thank goodness we don’t have to walk this walk alone.

nolaParent Tribe contributor, Dr. Dahlia Topolosky, PSY.D., and Jewish Family Services announce the return of a brand new New Orleans Parent’s Club (NOPC) group focused on the innovative Parent Coaching model–a powerful, collaborative relationship between parent and coach.

The NOPC 9-week curriculum begins Thursday, February 7, 2013, and includes a one-on-one coaching session to address your family’s specific needs and issues. Additional individual coaching sessions (or a package of sessions), in person or via phone consultation, are also offered to parents who would like to work privately with Dr. Topolosky.

This is a wonderful opportunity for new and seasoned parents of young children (ages 2-10) to learn positive parenting techniques that will help guide you through the everyday joys and challenges of parenthood, while socializing with other parents. Children are welcome to play beside you in a warm, kid-friendly space.

For more information and to register, visit the New Orleans Parent’s Club, email Dr. Topolosky or call the Jewish Family Services office at 504-831-8475 ext.120.

nolaParent tribe

Rick Jervis is the Gulf Coast Correspondent for USA TODAY, covering post-Katrina rebuilding, oil spills, culture, regional oddities and the recurrent hurricane. He was on a team that won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism and spent two years as USA TODAY’s Baghdad Bureau Chief. Check out his work here. Born in Miami to Cuban parents, Rick developed a keen interest in the effects of media on a child’s brain development and is raising his two young daughters in a bilingual home with his  wife, Elena.  


Adrianne Brennan, PhD, is a proud mother, wife, and native New Orleanian. She is a clinical psychologist and partner at Family Behavioral Health Center. She prides herself on full-service care for her clients, starting with identification of cognitive / academic / psychological strengths and weaknesses and ending with individualized treatments and self-advocacy skills. She enjoys exploring the uniqueness of each child and collaborating with them and the adults in their life. The goal is to use personal strengths to overcome weaknesses. When she is not working, she can be found chasing her kids around Lakeview or hitting up one of NOLA’s fine frozen yogurt establishments.  


Jude Boudreaux is father to Lucy, an incredible 3yo who has been fighting a diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia since 9/4/2012. She’s doing great and in long-term maintenance with an incredibly favorable prognosis.  Jude is the founder of Upperline Financial Planning, a Fee-Only Financial Planning firm based in New Orleans, focused on helping people make the most of their one shot at life, and using their money to support their life’s vision.  He’s a Certified Financial Planner, former FPA NexGen National President, and a regular presenter at national financial planning conferences, including the 2013 FPA Experience in Orlando.  Jude teaches Personal Finance and Music Finance at Loyola University New Orleans as an adjunct faculty member.  He graduated from Loyola in 2000 with a degree in Finance and is currently the President of the College of Business Alumni Board and a mentor for the College of Business Executive Mentoring Program. NP_Twitter_VintageLtBlue web


Brittany McBride is a native New Orleanian, proud wife, mother, and entrepreneur. She is passionate about childbirth education and looks forward to any lively discussion about the topic. As a former member of the Public Health community, her focus was on adolescent sex education and pregnancy prevention. After experiencing a difficult childbirth delivery/recovery, her focus in life became about celebrating pregnancy, birth and subsequently life. As a result Brittany started her own business, New Orleans’s premier maternity concierge.    

Elizabeth Elizardi is mom to two young girls, lives in New Orleans with her husband and hails from Philadelphia. She is a life coach, national speaker, online contributor to Psychology Today and a writer for Positive Psychology News Daily. Elizabeth recently launched her coaching and consulting business, Strengths Hub. Her sweet spots are parent/family coaching and education.   

Rachel Alltmont lives in New Orleans with her husband, Jeff, whose family is deeply rooted in New Orleans. They recently opened Alltmont’s Fine Custom Framing, where she is busy developing a series of family/kids art programs to be held at the shop. Before “retiring” to become a stay-at-home mom to three, Rachel was a Washington D.C. Public Relations rockstar. She is currently obsessed with Pinterest

Marilyn Levin is passionate about early literacy. She taught kindergarten at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, Louisiana, for 12 years and is the founder and former director of the school’s Summer Reading Program. After leaving Newman, she founded READ New Orleans, a program for parents and children aged 6 months to 5 years that focuses on fostering a lifelong love of language and books.   

Dr. Dahlia Topolosky is a licensed psychologist and parent coach. Her practice focuses on individual and group therapy, as well as psycho-educational evaluations for behavior and learning disorders. Dahlia is founder of the New Orleans Parents Club (NOPC), a group for parents to socialize and learn positive and effective parenting skills. She also provides private, parent coaching to parents struggling with the normal ups and downs of parenting. Dahlia loves singing (check out her children’s CD), playing guitar and hand drums, and spending time with her husband Rabbi Uri of Beth Israel, and their 4 children.   

MaureenMaureen Spencer is a speech-language pathologist and President of LexiaTech, an educational technology firm. She is devoted to the students, parents, and schools that she works with, and she is determined to help people in New Orleans understand language-learning disabilities. Before moving into the field of assistive educational technology, Maureen was the Executive Director of Basics Plus, a private practice in New Orleans that specializes in treatment of dyslexia and other learning differences. She currently lives in New Orleans with her husband Bob and her dog Lucy (terribly missing her three daughters.)    

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